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Fri 1st Nov 2019 - Propel Friday News Briefing

Story of the Day:

McDonald's opens first UK ‘dark kitchen’ to meet delivery demand: McDonald’s has opened its first UK “dark kitchen” in a bid to meet a boom in demand for home deliveries. The kitchen in Hanworth, west London, is not attached to a restaurant and will be used to prepare food to meet the growing appetite for McDonald’s deliveries direct to customers via apps such as UberEats. A McDonald’s spokesman told Property Week the move was “part of a wider trial to test different restaurant formats”. He added the opening of the kitchen would “ensure restaurants in the surrounding area can provide the service and convenience that our customers expect, ensuring McDelivery customers have a great experience”. It will be made clear on McDonald’s customers’ receipts and on the UberEats app the food has been prepared at the Hanworth kitchen rather than a traditional restaurant. “The kitchen looks and feels exactly the same as all our other kitchens up and down the country, and will deliver the same great-tasting food our customers expect,” said the spokesman. “It will adhere to exactly the same standards of food quality.” Following the company’s third-quarter results in October, Paul Pomroy, chief executive of McDonald’s UK & Ireland said delivery was now available at 950 of its UK sites and accounted for more than 10% of all its UK business. The move comes as other fast food companies look for “dark kitchen” space to meet booming demand from home delivery. Uber founder Travis Kalanick bought 100 dark kitchens in March with the intention of renting the spaces out to fast food companies while Deliveroo has circa 15 dark kitchens operating across the UK. AGL acted for McDonald’s on the Hanworth deal.
 

Industry News:

Paul Ruddy to look at what's next for investors and sector after Greene King acquisition in latest Premium column: Paul Ruddy, leisure analyst at Goodbody, will look at what's next for investors and the sector as a whole following Greene King's acquisition by Hong Kong private developer CK Asset Holdings as part of the latest Premium Opinion, which will be sent to subscribers on Friday (1 November) at 5pm. Meanwhile, Draft House founder Charlie McVeigh will look at the big opportunity for operators by having alcohol-free beer on draught. There will also be the latest sector rumours and rumblings via Premium Diary. Propel Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, discounts to attend Propel conferences and events, regular video recordings of key speakers from Propel events and conferences, and regular columns from Mark Wingett. They also receive access to our database of multi-site companies, which has now grown to 1,500 businesses. An annual premium subscription costs £345 plus VAT for operators and £445 plus VAT for suppliers – plus £50 each for additional team members. Email anne.steele@propelinfo.com

Business rates reform ‘must be priority for new government’: Business rates reform must be a priority for the new government, UKHospitality and the British Beer & Pub Association have said. It comes following the publication of the House of Commons treasury committee’s report on the impact of business rates on business, which said the current system no longer works. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The current system is nowhere near flexible enough and it has directly contributed to the decline of high streets. Hospitality businesses are at a particular disadvantage and have been arguably hammered worse than any other sector. The current system penalises businesses that invest in their properties and actually acts as a deterrent to investment. We need a complete rethink of the system and an overhaul to bring it in line with the 21st century. The incoming government must act on this as a priority. We will be keeping up the pressure with recommendations to ensure fairness for hospitality.” BBPA public affairs director David Wilson added: “The current system is particularly unfair on pubs, who pay 2.8% of the entire business rates bill despite accounting for just 0.5% of business turnover. This is especially acute when they are already being squeezed by other taxes such as unreasonably high beer duty.” 

Deliveroo reports 330% surge in vegan orders over past two years: Deliveroo has reported orders of plant-based dishes on its platform have risen 330% in the past two years. According to the food delivery company, the number of restaurants catering for vegans on the platform has grown by 168% in the past year. The research, released to coincide with World Vegan Day on Friday (1 November), also revealed the most popular vegan dishes in the past month on Deliveroo. They are Plant – vegan and chips from Honest Burgers; Vegatsu (Katsu curry) from Wagamama; vegan fried chicken burger from Oowee Vegan; Greggs' vegan sausage roll; The Guac Burger from By Chloe; PizzaExpress' vegan margarita pizza and Halo Burger's eponymous burger. A Deliveroo spokesman said: “Whether flexitarians or fully-fledged vegans, Deliveroo customers are embracing the growing choices of vegan foods available for delivery. No longer resigned to just salads, Brits are loving imitation meats, vegan-friendly alternatives and the infamous dirty vegan dishes.”

Foie gras to be cut from New York menus after council ban: Restaurants in New York City will be banned from selling foie gras from 2022. The bill, which is expected to be signed by mayor Bill de Blasio, would forbid the sale of the fattened liver of a duck or goose. Animal welfare activists had campaigned for a ban on the grounds the methods used to produce foie gras are cruel, involving force-feeding a bird a corn-based mixture through a tube slipped down its throat. The council vote was 42 to six for the final version of the bill that calls for a fine of up to $2,000 for each violation, reports ITV. About 1,000 restaurants in New York offer foie gras. New York City would not be the first place in the US to ban the food. California took a similar measure in 2012 while Chicago banned foie gras in 2006, but the ordinance was repealed two years later. Foie gras production is illegal in several countries, including the UK and India.

Company News:

Loungers appoints new property director: Loungers, the operator of 160 neighbourhood cafe-bar restaurants that trade under the Lounge and Cosy Club brands, has appointed Tom Trenchard as property director, Propel has learned. Trenchard, who replaces Rob Walls, was previously head of acquisitions at The Restaurant Group-owned Wagamama and prior to that head of property development at Sainsbury's. A Loungers spokeswoman said: “Tom is a fantastic hire for Loungers. His blend of roll-out experience in both the leisure and retail sectors is a great fit with our business as we look to maximise the significant opportunity we have with both brands across the UK.” Loungers continued its programme of openings in October by launching Cosy Club in Plymouth and Lounges in Carmarthen and Buxton. The group previously reported like-for-like sales grew 5.4% for the 24 weeks ending 6 October 2019. Total revenue for the period was up 22% over the prior year, to £79.8m. The group said it was on track to open 25 sites in the financial year and the pipeline remains “strong”.

Rockfish reports turnover up 15% in year that was ‘real turning point’ for business: Rockfish, the south west-based seafood restaurant group run by Mitch Tonks, has reported a boost in turnover in a year that was a “real turning point” for the business. Revenue rose 15% to £7.95m for the year ending 30 April 2019, compared with £6.90m the previous year. Restaurant Ebitda increased to £1.40m from £1.35m, while group Ebitda was £0.5m compared with £0.6m the year before. Rockfish operates seven sites, having launched in Dartmouth, Devon, in 2010. In January this year, Rockfish appointed Dave Strauss as restaurant director to oversee its expansion while it also received investment from Gresham House Ventures. Its board includes Hawksmoor Group co-founder and chief executive Will Beckett, Henry Dimbleby (ex-Leon and London Union), Steve Leadbeater (former Findus and Two Sisters chief financial officer) and John Barnes (ex-La Tasca and Harry Ramsden’s). Restaurant critic Giles Coren is also an investor. Tonks said: “2018-19 was a real turning point for our business. We saw some tremendous like-for-like sales, opened one restaurant but also paused to consider what was going on in the wider industry and economy and focused on strengthening our senior team and building the pipeline for the future. In the year we opened a restaurant in Exeter, appointed Dave Strauss, continued to invest in our current people and our fish supply business (including having a dedicated trawler out at sea fishing for the best seafood in the world) and we completed on sites in Weymouth, which opened this year, and Poole. We secured a further site in Sidmouth and expect to announce more locations shortly, which will underpin our growth into 2021. In the year we refinanced the business and found an excellent partner in Gresham Ventures, which was as excited as we are about our future plans.” Beckett, chairman of Rockfish, added: “Rockfish continues to amaze me – it’s such a special business, consistently opening wonderful restaurants while also contributing to the local economy in areas most restaurateurs have never visited, let alone considered opening in, and to the local fishing industry. Mitch and his team have a wonderful blend of ambition and pragmatism that I think will serve Rockfish well for many years to come.”

17,000 sign petition to keep debut UK Chick-fil-A site open following LGBT row: A petition to keep open the UK's first branch of Chick-fil-A, the largest chicken and third-largest US fast food restaurant chain, has been signed by more than 17,000 people. Last week it was announced Chick-fil-A would cease trading at its debut UK restaurant, in Reading, amid a row over donations to anti-LGBT groups. The branch at The Oracle shopping centre, which opened in October, will not have its lease extended beyond the “six-month pilot period”. Global Christian campaigners CitizenGo launched the online petition last week calling for the branch to remain open, reports Premier.org. The petition claims the “forced” closure of the restaurant is “an attack on religious freedom”. It said: “Chick-Fil-A are not in breach of any UK employment laws and do not discriminate against any of their customers therefore there is no good reason why this popular restaurant cannot be allowed to remain open.” Members of the LGBT community have taken issue with Chick-fil-A following comments made by the founder's Christian son. Both chief executive Dan Cathy and his late father Samuel, who founded the chain in 1946, have publicly made donations towards Christian charities that oppose LGBT lifestyles. A second UK branch of Chick-fil-A opened around the same time as Reading, to similar opposition from the LGBT community. The branch is located at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort hotel in Scotland.

Old Spot Pub Company lines up two more as it takes portfolio to ten with Uxbridge site: The Old Spot Pub Company, the Ei Managed Investments venture in partnership with Field to Fork director Dave Ford and Productivity Mentor director Bernard O’Neill, has lined up two further openings for early 2020. It comes as the company takes over the Crown & Treaty in Uxbridge, bringing its portfolio of pubs to ten. The site, which is famed for bearing witness to a failed treaty between Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I in 1645, officially reopened this week following a restoration. A new conservatory has been added to the restaurant to create a private dining area and the pub will soon open a hidden garden with a retracting roof to create a new all-weather protected bar. Ford said: “We’re delighted to be adding the Crown & Treaty to our portfolio – it’s a pub with an incredibly rich heritage that has served the immediate community for centuries.” Nathan Wall, operations director for Ei Managed Investments, added: “It has been an incredibly positive experience working alongside Dave, Bernard and the team at Old Spot Pub Company. We look forward to expanding the company’s portfolio even further in the new year.” Ei Group currently has 11 managed joint-venture partnerships, including Hippo Inns with Rupert Clevely and Mash Inns with Laine Pub Company, and runs more than 70 sites.

Ossett Brewery pub arm reports turnover boost: The pub arm of Yorkshire-based Ossett Brewery has reported turnover increased to £7.9m for the year ending 31 March 2019, compared with £7.2m the previous year. Ebitda was down to £1.0m, compared with £1.5m the year before. Operating profit reduced to £810,000 from £1.2m the previous year while pre-tax profit was down to £701,000 from £1.1m the year before. Gross profit margin remained flat at 59%. In their report accompanying the accounts, the directors stated: “The directors are pleased with the growth in turnover during the year, which has been achieved with the continued sales growth within the existing pub estate. The market place continues to be very competitive but continuing supplier agreements have maintained gross profit margins. The operating profit reflected the profit of £560,000 on the fair value sale and lease back arrangement for one of our properties together with the cost associated with the acquisition of the lease on an additional public house halfway through the year in 2017-18. Accounting for a full year of occupation in the year to 31 March 2019 in these premises has increased our rental and leasing commitments in 2019 and some other operational costs. The company is looking to continue growing the freehold pub estate.” As previously reported, the company has acquired The Bingley Arms in Horbury Bridge. Refurbishment of the pub is expected to start early next year with a planned opening in May. Ossett Brewery was founded in 1998 and operates a brewery alongside its 27 pubs. Mark Hunter, co-founder of Leeds-based software company BJSS, bought a 50% stake in the business in December last year. 

Adam Handling to launch sustainable casual restaurant and champagne bar in Chelsea: Chef Adam Handling is to launch a sustainable casual restaurant and champagne bar in Chelsea. Handling is opening Ugly Butterfly in King’s Road on Wednesday, 13 November. The project is a collaboration between Handling, Cadogan, the family business that owns and manages part of Chelsea; Quintessentially Foundation – the grant-giving arm of Quintessentially Group, providing funding and building awareness for UK registered charities; and The Felix Project, a London-based charity that collects surplus food from food industry suppliers, and delivers it to local charities and primary schools to help feed vulnerable people. Ugly Butterfly will offer a menu of snacks and small plates, served alongside a champagne list from the region’s top wine makers. The interiors have been created using upcycled and reutilised materials throughout, while all dishes will be made from the parts of ingredients that are usually discarded as waste. Ugly Butterfly will also be a hub for business and community sustainability initiatives to be promoted and supported. The Felix Project will receive 2.5% of the takings. Handling said: “Across my restaurants and bars we have a strong commitment to achieving zero waste and in setting up Ugly Butterfly, we can help to move the sustainability agenda forward even further.” The Felix Project chief executive Mark Curtin added: “We are grateful to be chosen as the charity partner and excited to help Adam and his team push the message of food waste reduction and sustainability in such an innovative and exciting environment.”

Leelex secured creditor sees expected funding shortfall increase to almost £825,000: The secured creditor of London and Leeds bar operator Leelex, which went into administration last year, is now facing a funding shortfall of almost £825,000 in its lending, a new report has revealed. HSBC was owed circa £1,196m when David Costley-Wood and Owen Jeffery, of KPMG, were appointed joint administrators in October last year. HSBC was originally expected to be left out of pocket by almost £760,000, but in their latest report the administrators said, based on current estimates, the anticipated shortfall would be about £824,600. As previously reported, preferential creditor claims of £6,444 are expected to be paid in full. Unsecured creditors are owed about £1.2m and it is anticipated there will not be a distribution over and above the prescribed part. Leelex operated Leeds venues Neon Cactus, Jake’s Bar and Cielo Blanco along with The Distillery in London. Prior to the administrators’ appointment a sale of The Distillery to Good Harbour Trading was completed for £400,000 and a separate sale of Neon Cactus, Jake’s Bar and Oporto was completed to Akito. Leelex went into administration after a “slowdown in the casual dining sector resulted in the company finding it increasingly difficult to service its current debt levels, leading to cash flow issues for the company as a whole”.

Taco Bell to hit 40-site mark in UK with Northampton launch: Franchisee The Adil Group is to open a Taco Bell site in Northampton – the Mexican restaurant brand's 40th in the UK. The company is launching the 51-seater restaurant and drive-thru in Nene Park, Sixfields, on Monday, 16 December, creating 40 jobs. It is part of The Adil Group's plans to open more than ten Taco Bell restaurants by 2023 across the country and it has already acquired numerous future sites. Lucy Dee, marketing lead of Taco Bell UK, said: “We’re pleased to be opening a Taco Bell in Northampton – it’s a place we’ve had our eye on for a while. Sixfields has a high footfall of those looking for entertainment and of course a bite to eat, providing us with the perfect spot to expand our portfolio in the area.” There are more than 425 Taco Bell restaurants across 27 markets outside the US, with the goal of expanding the brand’s international presence to 9,000 restaurants by 2022.

BBQ Dreamz founders to launch new concept in Bethnal Green for first permanent site: Lee Johnson and Sinead Campbell, founders of My Million Pound Menu winner BBQ Dreamz, which Draft House founder Charlie McVeigh has supported in an advisory role, are to launch a new concept in Bethnal Green, east London. Johnson and Campbell are opening Bong Bong’s Manila Kanteen in Hackney Road on Thursday, 7 November. It is the first permanent site for the pair who have hosted a number of residencies for BBQ Dreamz. At Bong Bong’s they will rotate their classics with new additions, including La Paz Batchoi, affectionately named “Filipino Phô”, a noodle broth with pork and liver, garnished with peanuts and spring onions, hailing from La Paz, the region where Johnson mother was born; and Adobo chicken, which is poached in a traditional soy sauce, garlic and bay stew before being crumbed and fried, and served with a banana ketchup. On Sundays, Bong Bong’s will host a kamayan, a Filipino-style family feast, made for sharing. With an emphasis on small-batch Filipino producers, the pair have created a cocktail menu that will sit alongside draught San Miguel, the preferred brand in the Philippines, as well as Red Horse, the brewery’s export-strength lager. Johnson said: “Opening Bong Bong’s is huge for us – it feels like an evolution from BBQ Dreamz, with a more ambitious and adventurous menu.” Campbell added: “We’re excited to bring the rituals of Filipino dining to Bethnal Green – we’ve spruced up our new home to feel like a proper Filipino canteen.” 

Property wrangle holds up Lupita sale out of administration: The sale out of administration of Lupita, the London-based Mexican restaurant business, has been held up following a property wrangle. A progress report by administrators Yiannis Koumettou and Amie Johnson, of Alexander Lawson Jacobs, confirmed the sale to Lupita's managing director Armando Gomez de Orozco has not yet completed. Gomez de Orozco, who joined the company in 2017, is due to acquire two of the three sites the company operated – in Kensington High Street and Commercial Street – for £60,000. The Villiers Street site closed with the lease surrendered back to the landlord as part of the administration process. The report stated: “Although a draft sale agreement was subsequently drawn up by our solicitors, this agreement has not yet been signed by both parties. The purchaser advised they were not able to complete on the sale as they were experiencing difficulties in securing formal occupation of the main trading premises in Commercial Street and that without this the business would be worthless. We have recently received confirmation from the purchaser they have now agreed terms with the landlord of Commercial Street and have paid the necessary legal fees to enable the completion of the new lease. Accordingly, a date for exchange has now agreed for the end of October and once this has taken place, it is anticipated the completion of the sale of the company's business, goodwill and assets will take place shortly thereafter.” Lupita, which was founded by Rafael Mondragon in 2010, was placed on the market in 2017 through Christie & Co with a guide price of £1.8m.

Indian restaurant concept Raj heads to Islington for second site: Indian restaurant concept Raj is heading north of the river for its second London site. Founder Salim Sheikh is launching Raj of Islington in early December just off Upper Street. Similar to its flagship venue, Raj of Kensington, the 82-cover sister restaurant will focus on the same ethos – home-cooked authentic Indian food from different regions across the continent. Signature dishes include The Railway Lamb Curry, once served on the long train journey from Bombay to Calcutta, and Murg Salli Zardaloo, from the Gujarat region, which are both made based on 100-year-old recipes. The drinks list spans wine by the glass to spirits, house-made mocktails, and a selection of cocktails and gin. Sheikh, who has a background in fine dining, founded Raj in 2016. 

British Country Inns sells remaining site: British Country Inns has sold the last in its group of managed pubs that was EIS funded. The company appointed agent Christie & Co in September 2017 to sell the 13 food-led sites, having realised the original investment goals set out during its founding in 2005, and return capital to investors. Now it has sold the remaining site – the Inn On The Wye, a pub, bed and breakfast, and wedding business in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire. The two-storey property, which has been extended over the years, has been bought by Tony and Jane Southall, of Worcester-based Dynamic Construction Southall. The pub will be run and operated by new leaseholder Louise Turley. She said: “There are no plans to make any immediate changes to the inn. It already has a great reputation for food, so I want to expand on that and include more locally sourced products within our menus. It’s an exciting time and a great opportunity for me to build on an established business.” 

Waterworld Leisure Group reports turnover boost following investment drive: Staffordshire-based Waterworld Leisure Group, owned by Mo Chaudry, has reported a turnover boost following an investment programme despite extreme weather affecting visitor numbers. Turnover rose to £4.5m for the year ending 31 December 2018, compared with £4.0m the previous year. Ebitda during the period remained at £1.7m. Operating profit was down to £1.0m from £1.2m the year before while pre-tax profit fell to £998,000 from £1.2m the previous year. In his report accompanying the accounts, Chaudry said: “It has been a year of extreme weather – a very cold spell at the start of the year and then an unprecedented dry period during the peak period. These extreme weather conditions have had a negative impact on visitor numbers across both Waterworld and Adventure Mini Golf. The results therefore are satisfactory. Adventure Mini Golf has remained profitable despite the extreme weather and Waterworld has seen an increase in operating profit.” A multimillion-pound investment drive into the Stoke-on-Trent park's facilities began in May 2018 and included four new major water rides, a new full-service fitness club and a second indoor adventure golf facility. Post year-end the new rides were opened in time for the last ten days of the 2019 summer holidays. Visitor numbers rose by 30% in that period and have been up on average by 20% since then. Chaudry acquired the Waterworld Group from The Rank Group in 1999 and has invested millions of pounds over the years in a phased refurbishment plan of the attraction.

Marston's to remove all single-use plastic bottles and cups from inns business: Marston’s has pledged to remove all single-use plastic water bottles and cups from its inns estate by the end of 2019. Following 18 months of sustainability firsts for the business, including zero waste to landfill, increasing recycling rates and committing to introducing 200 electric car charging points across its pub estate, Marston’s now plans to remove its annual use of almost half a million plastic bottles from its 60 inns. The removal of single-use plastic from rooms will also include saving on average 1,865 plastic cups per week with glasses now being made available in rooms. Customers still wishing to have bottled water will be able to purchase glasses of bottled water through all of Marston’s pubs. Jo Rogers, hotel operations manager for Marston’s inns, said: “The strive for plastic reduction across any business and household is at an all-time high and this small change just shows the power of how making one adjustment can have a big impact.”

Honest Burgers to open Liverpool Street site on Monday: Honest Burgers, the Active Partners-backed chain, will open its latest site, in London's Liverpool Street, on Monday (4 November). The company is launching the 136-cover venue in Old Broad Street in the former Gow’s restaurant premises. It follows launches in Manchester, Liverpool, London Bridge and Cardiff earlier this year. Founders Tom Barton and Philip Eeles have created a special burger in collaboration with street food kebab concept Babek Brothers, and a cocktail in partnership with local whisky bar Black Rock Tavern to mark the opening. Eeles said: “We only open restaurants in buildings we really love. There’s been a restaurant on this site for more than 125 years – it’s got an old-school vibe and a bright, open-plan dining room with a big basement, and it's right next to Liverpool Street station too.”

White Brasserie Company to open 20th site in December: White Brasserie Company, the sister business to Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie Blanc chain, will open its 20th site in December. The company is launching The King's Arms in the village of Prestbury, on the outskirts of Cheltenham. The pub previously operated under Mitchells & Butlers' Crown Carveries brand, but has been shut since the end of 2018. The pub will reopen on Monday, 9 December after it has undergone an extensive refurbishment that will include an open-plan dining area with about 100 covers and a traditional bar area.

Greene King publishes Christmas guide for pub partners: Brewer and retailer Greene King has published a new guide packed with Christmas insight, hints and tips for its leased and tenanted partners to make the most of the festive season. The 40-page handbook was developed by the Pub Partners marketing team and aims to inspire publicans to make the most of key sales opportunities throughout December and give them extra tips and pointers to make their Christmas one to remember for customers. The guide aims to inspire licensees to consider going above and beyond in their pub to make Christmas a success, as well as ideas on how to continue the momentum through into January. Phil Chatwin, Greene King Pub Partners head of marketing, said: “Pub Partners has always sought to inspire licensees to make the most of Christmas, with roadshows and advice packs, but this year we wanted to create what we feel is a fully comprehensive work book that has something for everyone.” The guide has been sent free-of-charge to all of Pub Partners’ 1,000-plus publicans across the country. It is the latest in a series of new marketing promotions offered to Greene King partners, including the recently published wine brochure that allows partners to create their own bespoke wine menus free of charge. 

Lincolnshire hotel in administration goes on market for £3.5m, creditors owed more than £4m: A 103-bedroom hotel in Lincolnshire that went into administration in September has been put on the market for £3.5m while creditors are owed more than £4m. Directors of the Olde Barn Hotel in Marston, near Grantham, called in Diana Frangou and Adrian Allen, of RSM, after the business suffered from cash flow pressures. The hotel also has a leisure club, restaurant and function facilities. The administrators revealed the hotel has been loss-making every year – bar the year-ending 31 October 2017 – since the company behind it was incorporated in 2013. The owners decided to extend the hotel and the capital expenditure incurred put cash flow pressure on the hotel, which even had its electrical supply cut off at one point. After being appointed, the administrators continued to trade the hotel as normal to try and achieve an optimum price for the business. RSM also called in OneCall Hospitality to help with the running of the hotel. In its latest accounts, the hotel made a loss of £84,000. Administrators' documents showed the company owes more than £3m to its bank Coutts and almost £1.1m to unsecured creditors, who are unlikely to see any of the cash owed. Avison Young have now been drafted in to broker a sale of the hotel, with offers in the region of £3.5m sought. A RSM spokesman told The Business Desk: “Our strategy remains unchanged in that the hotel continues to trade whilst we market it for sale as a going concern. Discussions are ongoing with a number of interested parties who have expressed an interest in acquiring the hotel as a going concern.”

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